American Indians, who now prefer the term Native American, are the descendants of the indigenous peoples who inhabited North America at the time of the Columbian Exchange. In Canada, the preferred term is “First Nation,” but the term American Indian is still in widespread use across the United States. The history of the relationship between the United States and the American Indian is one littered with tragedy.
Europeans arrived around the year 1500, and between the 16th and 19th centuries, the population of American Indians plummeted due overwhelmingly from exposure to new diseases. In 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, and peace between them and their American Indian neighbors lasted until 1675, with the outbreak of King Philip’s War. In the North American phase of the Seven Years’ War, known in America as the French and Indian War, many Native Americans aligned themselves with the French against the British and their colonials.
By the mid-nineteenth century, Americans were piercing the frontier along every point. White settlers flooded into areas of the country that had been the ancestral home of American Indians for centuries, a nomadic horse culture that often wished for nothing more than to be left alone by the whites. The Indian Wars of the 1800s culminated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, when American conquest of the American Indian was complete. Despite this history, the American Indian remains a proud vessel of an ancient heritage, a people whose way of life was often more harmonious with the world around than the Europeans who fought them.